Philadelphia Eagles: Ideal first-round targets in 2021 NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft prospect Kyle Pitts #84 of the Florida Gators (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
2021 NFL Draft prospect Kyle Pitts #84 of the Florida Gators (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /
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2021 NFL Draft, Philadelphia eagles
Ja’Marr Chase could be the Philadelphia Eagles’ first selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NFL Draft had one of the strongest receiver classes in years with six players taken in the first round. In addition to the six taken in round one, last year’s draft class also featured second-round studs Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, and Michael Pittman Jr., so there would be an inevitable drop in talent this spring right? Well, the 2021 NFL Draft could actually top last year’s group.

There is no clear number one at the group where any of Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle, or former national champion Ja’Marr Chase could be the first receiver selected. After using the 21st overall pick in last spring’s draft on Jalen Reagor, the Eagles could once again decide to go after a receiver. General Manager Howi Roseman looks to add one of the top-end receiver talents around Wentz and may do the same this year for Hurts.

DeVonta Smith, Wide Receiver, Alabama

DeVonta Smith was overshadowed between Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, and Jaylen Waddle but after Ruggs and Jeudy went in the first round of the 2020 Draft and Waddle went down to injury, Smith stepped up as Mac Jones’s top receiver in a stacked unit at Alabama. Smith and Jones accounted for 117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns in route to another national title.

Smith is a talented route runner and is effective both in the slot and as a deep threat vertical option. Smith’s combination of speed, route running, and ability to shake defenders would generally make him an easy first-round selection. His only knock entering the 2021 NFL Draft would be his size. At 6-foot, 175 lbs., Smith would be one of the smallest first-round receiver prospects in Draft history.

Marquise Brown has had mixed success with the Ravens after being drafted 25th overall in 2019 but wasn’t the same prospect Smith was out of college. While Brown was in a prolific Oklahoma offense, few receivers have down what Smith did at Alabama, as he became the fourth receiver to win the Heisman Trophy. While Smith is undersized, he has continued to dominate at every level and looks to be the next star to break the mold of the typical NFL receiver.

Jaylen Waddle, Wide Receiver, Alabama

While Smith brought home all of the accolades last season, teammate Jaylen Waddle could be the first receiver to have his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft. Like his Alabama counterpart, Waddle brings versatility to any receiver group as a featured outside receiver or inside, slot threat. Waddle would allow Siriniani to alternate looks with Reagor, focusing on getting Waddle the ball in open space.

Waddles measures just under the six-foot mark at 5-foot-10, 182 lbs. but should still be expected to be a physical mismatch against NFL defenders. Waddle displays an exceptional burst at the line of scrimmage and should look to get the ball in a number of different looks both at receiver and out of the backfield. In addition to his skillset at receiver, Waddle may be the most talented special teams player in the draft class.

Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver, LSU

The last of the top ten talents at the receiver position, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase was the 2019 version of DeVonta Smith. Chase registered 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns opposite Justin Jefferson in LSU’s title-winning and record-setting offense. Chase opted out of his junior year to instead focus on the Draft, amongst COVID concerns and was expected to be the first receiver taken based on his final season with the Tigers.

Impressive seasons from the Alabama pair could see Chase lose his top spot come April, but Chase very well could go as high as sixth to the Eagles. Chase again possesses similar measurables as Smith and Waddle but has a slightly bigger frame than the Alabama duo. Chase would give the Eagles a threat both from the slot or outside and would become the featured receiver in a turned-over position group.

Chase is a strong route runner and uses his size well to position himself against defenders both at the ball and in open space. Despite the great play from Jefferson and the Alabama receivers, Chase arguably put together the strongest single-season and brings physicality for his size. The 2021 NFL Draft is shaping to be fascinating with three top talent and similar receivers fighting to be selected first.